Amara Communications to Launch 4G+ Data-Only Service

Amara Communications Co (ACS) is aiming to launch its 4G+ wireless broadband data-only service, which called ananda, by the end of this month, Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi, deputy CEO of ACS, told The Myanmar Times. “We will be the first and only wireless broadband data operator in Myanmar," she said.


The move comes two years after ACS was given a license to operate its service on a 2,600 MHz spectrum, which is the highest frequency awarded to a telecommunications services operator by the government so far.


It also comes at a time when demand for access to reliable, high-speed internet is rising in Myanmar. "People are consuming more and more data. They are streaming videos on YouTube, uploading photos on Instagram and active on websites like Facebook and mobile apps like Viber," she said.


Based on AC's observations, the average internet user in Myanmar consumes around 8-9 gigabytes of mobile data per month. With data usage on the rise, the existing options for consumers in the country are quickly becoming inadequate.


Currently, there are four mobile telecommunications operators in Myanmar - MPT, Telenor, Ooredoo and MyTel, which officially launched its services in Myanmar on February 13. "These operators offer which is becoming expensive given the amount of data consumers are using," said Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi.


Then, there are also other internet service providers (ISPs) like Myanmar Net, which provides WiFi services at lower speeds. "But ananda is on a different frequency. The mobile operators and other ISPs are on lower frequencies of between 900 MHz and 2,100 MHz. At our frequency, consumers will be able to enjoy uninterrupted high-speed access to the internet, she said.


If all goes according to plan, ACS will roll out its new service by the end of this month, starting in Yangon and later in Mandalay. For an "affordable price," customers will be given a plug and play MiFi device, which is a small wireless router that functions as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. There will be no installation fees involved. ACS will eventually also provide users with data-only SIM cards.


Under its agreement with the government, ACS will also make its services available in Rakhine State and Ayeyarwaddy Region over the long term.

Local firm


ACS is part of the IGE Group, a Myanmar group of companies with a diverse portfolio of businesses which includes power, energy, infrastructure development, hospitality and financial services.


The company was established in 2011 to tap the country's rapidly developing telecommunications market. ACS currently provides network rollout services which include telecommunications tower foundation civil works, installation of power and radio communications equipment as well as operation and maintenance of towers.


In 2013, ACS was among the companies that bid for a mobile operator license in Myanmar. "We were among the operators who bid for the license but we came in number 6 and did not get the chance to participate in the mobile telecommunications market," said Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi.


In 2016, ACS was among the nine other bidders that participated in the government auction for a data service license. Of the three that were selected, it is the only one with the rights to provide its service in Yangon and Mandalay.


"We participated in both auctions as we believe it is a good opportunity for a local company to participate in the Myanmar telecommunications sector," said Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi.


Big investments


Still, ACS faces its fair share of risk in the years ahead. The way Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi tells it, "with license fees, network equipment and infrastructure, we have already invested over $100 million." This includes over 300 towers in Yangon, which is 65pc of the company's initial target of building 500 towers.


The company is now in the process of building more towers in Yangon as well as in Mandalay. "Because our 2,600 MHz spectrum is high frequency, it has a more narrow coverage. So we will need to build more towers to have continuous connection," said Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi.


By her estimates, ACS will need to invest another $150 million on more towers to expand its network as demand rises.


"We also need to factor in technology. As things advance from 4G to 5G, we will need to change the equipment to be up-to-date with the current technology.


What's more, AC' current license will expire in 13 years and renewal isn't guaranteed. "We will get the opportunity to renew at the end of 15 years from 2016 only if we meet the terms and conditions," she said.


For now though, the prospects are looking bright. "Besides individual users and families, there are also around 15,000 businesses located in Yangon that will find our service very useful," said Ma Aye Mya Mya Kyi. "This is a very exciting time for data providers in Myanmar.